This Wednesday, all 435 Members of the House of Representatives and the 33 incoming Senators will perform a constitutional rite that harkens back to the country’s founding. “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned,” reads Article VI of the Constitution, “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.”
The Members of Congress will be sworn in by taking the following oath:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
The constitutionally-mandated oath plays two important roles, as the inaugural essay in Heritage’s new “Constitutional Guidance for Lawmakers” series explains.
By requiring all Members of Congress—as well as Members of the State Legislatures and all executive and judicial officers—to support the Constitution, the “Oaths Clause” obliges them to observe the limits of their authority and act in accordance with the powers delegated to them by the Constitution.
In addition, the oath serves as a solemn reminder that the duty to uphold the Constitution is not the final responsibility of the Courts, but is shared by Congress and the President as co-equal branches of the United States government. As Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution stipulates, the President too is bound “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
With a view to helping lawmakers clearly understand their duties and powers under the Constitution, The Heritage Foundation will be publishing several more short essays on key constitutional clauses in the coming weeks. Up next: “Legislative Powers: Not Yours to Give Away” on Article I, Section 1.